Glowing with Gluttony in Hoi An

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Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast » Quảng Nam » Hoi An
March 20th 2009
Published: April 10th 2009
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Hoi An is absolutely steeped in history - lined with old temples, crumbling mansions and ancient halls. It was a major river port in the 16th and 17th century but unlike other port towns I’ve been to, Hoi An is still essentially a charming traditional town. Like Hue, it’s been recently declared a World Heritage site, and again there is a lot of restoration work going on here. It is very obvious that we are heading south into hotter climate - just a few minutes after stepping outside the hotel this morning we were two sweaty little piggies. That being said, we still loved walking around.

Hoi An is a tailoring and shopping mecca and I think we may have gone a little over the top. There are literally hundreds of tailors in Hoi An, as well as shoe makers and silk lantern makers. After we had lunch at Mermaid Cafe which has the most delectable bahn xeo (crispy seafood pancakes), we went tailor hunting. This seems like a daunting task at first but you soon get a feel for it - it helps if you know exactly what you want too. On our first night there we had dinner at Banana Leaf Restaurant on the banks of the Thu Bon River - very good white rose (shrimp encased in rice paper and steamed), and reasonably priced cocktail buckets! 😄

One sunny morning we hired bikes and Chinh took a few of us on a guided tour of the suburbs of Hoi An. Luckily the back streets have far less traffic and we were able to cruise along and enjoy the view only having to watch out for children cycling to school and herds of buffalos being taken to the rice fields. After about 45mins we ended up at the beach and the much needed shade of the coconut trees. Unfortunately we could not stay and play for very long as Andrew had a suit fitting and my tummy was starting to think of lunch.

In-between picking a tailor from the 300 or so in the town, picking fabrics, and going to suit and dress fittings; we also spent time perusing the old sector for a wooden hand carved chess set, a Vietnamese teapot and black lacquered dragon chopsticks. Happy to report that we were successful on all fronts. In hindsight, I cannot believe that we shopped for two whole days in 35+ degree heat...I love travelling with Andrew! 😊

Hoi An seems to have four aspects to it - the architecture, the tailors, the shops and the seafood - I think we covered and indulged in all four aspect quite adequately. Hoi An has beautiful French, Chinese and Japanese architecture, and my favourite sight/building was the striking Japanese Covered Bridge. We did an orientation walk with Chinh - I really love orientation walks (even more than a cyclo tour) - and we particularly liked the Assembly Hall of the Fujian Chinese and the part of town on the banks of the Thu Bon River - especially at night when all the lovely lanterns are lit up. Just exquisite.

A few of us from the group signed up for a cooking class at Gioan Restaurant, and it was quite the experience. The class started with a trip to the market to buy fresh produce, and although we didn’t buy that much, we did pick up some good tips about buying fresh seafood and vegetables. The class itself was informative and we learnt to make sweet and sour chicken soup, fried spring rolls, green papaya salad and grilled fish in banana leaf. Unfortunately the cooking teacher was a cross between a condescending stand-up comic and a kitchen nazi 😞, and I was glad there were nine of us and only one of her!

The Vietnamese are foodies in the nicest and most down to earth way possible. There's a rigid way to prepare every dish, and even the most humble salads, soups and spring rolls have to have the exact balance of sweet, sour, salty and hot ingredients. Ingredient substitution is frowned upon and gastronomic experimentation is tantamount to treason. I suppose I can see their point - why mess with a good thing?

On our last night in Hoi An, Chinh suggested a fine dining/more westernised restaurant - Cargo Club, over a local one for dinner, but happily, we were not in the least disappointed. While it was expensive by Hoi An standards, it only equated to mid-range Australian prices and the food was glorious. Andrew had the ‘best tuna dish’ of his life. I had no such revelation; however my Banana Split dessert with three tropical ice creams came very close!

The whole group is a bit shopped and tailored out and we are all looking forward to Nha Trang next, where apparently balmy waters and a sailboat await!

p.s. A little creative packing was needed to fit all our shopping into our packs. I just about had to sit on my pack while Andrew zipped it shut...did someone say baggage allowance? pft!


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